Nov 3, 2022 | Red Deer

The secret of effective math teaching 🤫: think like a child & speak in their language - with an adult knowledge! 


We avoid using too many jargons

Being able to think like a child with an adult knowledge is the key to transferring the information on a level that makes sense to the student. Teaching students – by using too many jargons – without considering their level of cognitive maturity would just create frustration to both sides.

Compare these two explanations about what half means.

  • Half means “either of two equal or corresponding parts into which something is or can be divided” (Oxford Dictionary).
  • Half means “two parts the same” (Larry Martinek, the man behind the Mathnasium Method).


Not too many words, not too few either. Sometimes simpler means longer – like Larry’s story below. This happened when Larry was in a barber shop: 

"The conversation turned to the fact that the barber did not know about the number pi. “Yea, pi, you know, an irrational number. It’s the ratio of the circumference of a circle to a diameter,” a customer said.

The barber seemed perplexed. It occurred to me that a person who knows the words ratio, circumference, and diameter probably also knows about what pi is. So I decided on a different approach.

I said to him, “When you take the distance around a circle and divide it by the distance across the circle, you always get the same number. It doesn’t matter how big the circle is. It could be as small as a dime or as big as the sun. The distance around divided by the distance across always come out the same number. Math people call the number pi.”

“By the way, pi is an unusual kind of number. Its decimal form never stops and never repeats.”

He responded, “Now that makes sense!”

My choice of words did the trick. I assumed less previous knowledge on his part, provided context in the form of images and concepts (rather than technical jargon), and got the point across to everyone’s satisfaction."


Some vocabulary examples

These are some vocabularies that we typically use when teaching students.

  • Addition: “how many altogether” or for example instead of asking 5+2, ask “what is 5 and two more?”
  • Subtraction: “how far apart two numbers are” or “how much is left”.
  • Division: “how many of these are there inside of that” for example “how many 8s are there inside of 24?”.
  • Multiplication: counting in equal groups, “what is 8, three times?”
  • Denomination: the “name”, meaning the collective name of a group of similar things (apples, centimetres, cents, coins).
  • Percent: “for each 100”.


Many students, including high-schoolers, are not educationally mature enough to deal successfully with large doses of jargon, especially when they do not understand the underlying concepts. Teaching by using simple language will help students construct their own understanding.

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